Paul Jonathan Willis
after Charles Harper Webb
As in the Apostle Paul, of course–
a big name, though the word means little.
I’ve always found it hard to pronounce,
hard to fit that l on the end, as if it were the paw
of a cat that couldn’t scratch her signature.
But evangelicals like Paul better than they like
Jesus, given the fact that Jesus told confusing stories
but Paul excelled in the prototype of the three-point sermon.
I am not too good at either, which would make me
more like Jonathan, that Horatio to David’s Hamlet,
the selfless supporter, tending a little toward co-dependence.
Horatio was left to tell the story, at least what Fortinbras
would allow, but Jonathan went down with the ship
fighting next to his father, Saul, against Matthew Arnold’s
Philistines, which was Paul’s name–Saul, that is–
before he changed it, something I would never do.
A friend of mine now calls me Pauly, who knows why,
but her husband recently hanged himself, and she
seems to need some terms of endearment in her life.
I’ve known people who change their names like leaves
in autumn, from Kathryn to Kate to Katie, just like that,
and a boy at the high school legally registered himself as
Trout Fishing in America, in honor of Richard Brautigan.
Where it all ends for me is Willis–son of Will, I have heard–
a British name, good for a guy who teaches
in an English Department, though at least half of me is German.
“Hey, Willis!” they say to me, and I like that, a last name
that could be my first, rising from what Paul the Apostle
regarded as the ends of the earth, that place
where his gospel was going.
are like this sea spread out
in preternatural calm or storm
that sycamore that stirs or sheds
its handbreadth leaves
a poppy bloomed or withered
in an orange distress.
What I say, I say to you
in season and out.